Bill Clinton's high-stakes gamble that freed two American journalists in North Korea this week didn't faze one Merced resident.
After all, she was born there.
One hundred and two years ago next week. In the walled city of Pyongyang, capital of the last Stalinist state on the planet.
Evelyn Becker McCune is the Birthday Girl. She comes from one of the handful of American families who have influenced our understanding of the Korean Peninsula -- the Hermit Kingdom, the Land of the Morning Calm -- for more than a century.
And today, living with her daughter Heather McAfee McCune Thompson, she's one of us.
Evelyn's time in Merced with Heather and her late husband Don has been "five times as long as she's lived anywhere else," says Heather. "There was always something over the horizon."
Happily for Americans' understanding of Korean culture, history, politics and art, that horizon often lined her life in both North and South Korea.
She has never been one, however, to limit her horizons. "Even when I was small, my family let me outside (their compound in Pyongyang) because I knew the street language," she recalls in a clear voice with what can only be described as a Korean accent. "You could always get around if you knew how to swear in Korean."
This, from the daughter of a Methodist minister who co-founded Korea's first two colleges, one in the north, one in the south.
The one in Seoul became Yonsei University, undergraduate home of UC Merced's chancellor, Steve Kang.
"She's an amazing lady," he says. "Her family has contributed enormously to Korea. I'm so proud of Evelyn and Heather."
That minister, Arthur L. Becker, also lived in Merced for many years until his death in 1978 at age 99.
Evelyn has whipped Bay Area teenage Sunday school boys into docile rows, carried a caged canary in a car from the West Coast to Michigan in the 1930s, written influential texts on Korean art and a novel about China's only empress.
She worked for 15 cents an hour, 10 hours a day, at a restaurant to help put herself through two degrees at Cal Berkeley. She has left a legacy of kinfolk and students whose lives have been forever favorably changed by her presence in them.
Her force of character and personality reflects that of her father, Arthur Becker.
Evelyn and Heather have written a 476-page biography of this Michigan man who, along with Christianity, taught Koreans to run and play ball. He and his wife Louise spent a half-century of their lives bringing science and music to the young people of Korea, Evelyn and Heather wrote.
She also forged a formidable partnership with her husband, George "Mac" McAfee McCune, also the son of missionaries in Korea. Before his death at age 40 in 1948, he had wooed Evelyn from a sickbed in Hawaii ("a bad ticker!" her father wrote before their marriage), then returned with her to Korea.
For the next 15 years, in Korea and the United States, he became one of the few informed, rational voices about U.S. policy toward the peninsula.
After World War II, for instance, he presciently observed that Kim Il Sung's guerrilla movement in the north was one that deserved U.S. attention. Two years after Mac's death, Kim attacked the south and started the Korean War.
Evelyn's husband also "invented a pronunciation and English orthography system for Korean with Edwin O. Reischauer," later President Kennedy's ambassador to Japan, according to a scholarly paper by Jongchol An.
In Heather's living room, Evelyn peers through her large glasses as if trying to penetrate a visitor's soul. Her chronology, predictably, wavers a little as she looks back over a century of life.